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Touching the Sound

Posted at 2:09 PM on December 4, 2005 by Euan Kerr

I had a three movie Saturday, a rare but enjoyable event. "Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe" preview screening with the Movie Maven in the morning, (more on that later,) "Touch the Sound" in the early evening, and then "Rashomon" on DVD in the evening.

I really liked "Touch the Sound." One of the movies which has really stuck with me in recent years, in that I regularly find myself thinking back to scenes and images in the film, is "Rivers and Tides." It's a breathtakingly gorgeous documentary about Andy Goldsworthy, who creates sculptures from stones, leaves, sticks, icicles, and a host of other things he finds on his travels.

Now the director and cinematogapher behind "Rivers and Tides," Thomas Riedelsheimer, is back with a film about percussionist Evelyn Glennie, or perhaps more precisely Glennie's theories about sounds and how we listen to the world around us. To make "Touch the Sound," Riedelsheimer followed Glennie through a year of globe-trotting and music making. (Several hair colors too.)

There is a great deal of Glennie performing in the film, including in Grand Central Station and the Guggenheim in New York, with a Daiko group in Japan, and with composer Fred Frith in a deserted factory in Cologne, Germany.

Yet the most interesting and beautiful scenes focus on the sounds of the everyday world which they run into on their travels. There are the sounds of squeaking suitcase wheels, dripping taps, the click of heels on hard floors, and rumble of flags whipping in a strong wind.

A great deal has been made of the fact that Glennie lost almost all her hearing by her early teens, but in "Touch" it's only mentioned in passing, and even then it's as an explanation for Glennie's creative process. She has taught herself to 'hear' in other ways, which have allowed her to develop as a musician.

Instead Riedelsheimer focuses on sound and evocative images depicting soundwaves. The sound design on this film is magnificent too, isolating tiny sonic moments and presenting them beautifully.

As in "Rivers and Tides" there are remarkable moments: the ripples on a pond, and the shadows of people and a dog walking across an opaque floor, shot from below. Using these images, and many other like them, Riedersheimer walks a fine line between adding to the film experience as opposed descending into cliche. He has a deft touch and never strays over that line.

This is a film which music lovers will truly appreciate, as will anyone else prepared to just let themselves go with the flow.

A couple of friends have told me they walked out of William Eggleston in the Real World saying the wind-crushed audio, and the unedited video just bugged the heck out of them. I'm looking forward to finding out what, if anything, they think of "Touch the Sound."

December 2005
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